A resurgent Leeds Rhinos travelled to the Huddersfield Giants to take on a side who took little time to dismiss their Challenge Cup disappointment and show that their focus for the 2022 season is now well and truly making the Old Trafford Grand Final in October, while the Rhinos would settle for making the play-offs as they struggle to get out of the bottom half of the table.
Giants coach Ian Watson stuck with Pryce in the half-backs due to the continued unavailability of Fages, and was also without O´Brien and Russell, while Rohan Smith´s Rhinos were without Bentley, Gannon and skipper Kruise Leeming who missed out through illness
The home side were slight favourites with the bookies to consolidate their place in the top four, with the Rhinos being given a four-point start on the handicap coupon as they looked to overtake the Tigers and move into seventh place.
When the two sides met at Headingley over Easter, honours were shared with even golden point unable to separate the two. On paper it promised to be the game of the round.
Will Pryce opened the scoring on three minutes when he slotted over a thirty-metre penalty goal after interference in the tackle from Bodene Thompson, the Giants setting out their stall early that they would take the points on offer whenever they could.
The Giants were having the best of the early exchanges and on thirteen Ricky Leutele trapped a Wardle kick through before picking up the ball and diving over in the left corner. Pryce was unable to add the extras, the Giants six ahead.
On seventeen the Rhinos were penalised again, this time for a high tackle, and Pryce again took the opportunity to kick the penalty goal but missed the target from a seemingly straightforward position.
But within a minute, Jermaine McGillvary found space wide to take a Tui Lolohea pass to score in the corner. Pryce kicked the conversion from the touchline for a 12-0 lead. The Rhinos being exploited down the edges.
Within a minute the Giants were in again with Jake Wardle taking a Leutele pass to go in down the right-hand side, the Rhinos reeling from the points onslaught. Once again Pryce failed with the kick, but the Giants were scoring at will.
Another error from the Rhinos, fumbling the ball on the Giants thirty, saw Chris McQueen pick up the ball and run seventy metres to outpace the Rhinos chasers and score in the corner. Pryce added the touchline conversion for a 22-0 lead with just under half an hour played. Leeds coach Smith would need to give the half-time team talk of his career.
Good Leeds defence prevented McGillvary from getting his second as they scrambled him into touch with a minute of the half remaining. As the Rhinos returned the ball Blake Austin broke downfield before a long looping pass from Richie Myler found Ash Handley to score in the corner and give the Rhinos some hope. Rhyse Martin was unable to add the conversion, the Giants 22-4 ahead at the break.
It was back-to-back tries for the Rhinos with Cameron Smith throwing a delightful pass into the hands of the on-rushing Liam Sutcliffe to cross the line and dot down. Martin added the conversion for 10-22, the Rhinos two converted tries behind with twenty-two minutes on the clock.
A high tackle from Matt Prior gifted Pryce a simple penalty goal to extend the margin to three scores, some additional breathing space for the Giants.
The game was over on sixty-eight after a Lolohea interception and break, using McGillvary to make extra metres. Leeds scrambled back to tackle but two plays later Josh Jones took the pass todrag two tacklers over the line to score from close range. Pryce added the conversion for 30-10, the Giants with the crucial two points.
Three minutes before the final hooter Zak Hardaker won the race with Jarrod O´Connor to collect an Austin grubber to the corner, the Rhinos full-back touching down. Martin added the conversion for 16-30, late consolation for the Rhinos as they were well beaten.
The Giants march for the play-offs continued with another top-drawer performance as they took apart a Rhinos side who many commentators believe could be an outside bet for making Old Trafford. There is no denying that Ian Watson is building a side who can challenge for major honours and who the games big sides are looking over their shoulders at while trying to stay ahead.
Huddersfield Giants: Lolohea, McGillvary (T), Cudjoe, Leutele (T), Wardle (T), Cogger, Pryce (5G), Wilson, Levi Lawrence, McQueen (T), Jones (T), English. Subs: Greenwood, Trout, Golding, Mason.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker (T), Fusitu´a, Sutcliffe (T), Martin (2G), Handley (T), Myler, Austin, Oledzki, O´Connor, Tetevano, Thompson, Donaldson, Smith. Subs: Dwyer, Newman, Walters, Prior.
Score Progression: 2-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, 16-0, 20-0, 22-0, 22-4 : HT : 22-8, 22-10, 24-10, 28-10, 30-10, 30-14, 30-16: FT.
Lead Exchanges: Huddersfield.
Referee: Liam Moore.